February 2013

Astros around the league

Considering all the trades the Astros have made in the last few years, it’s not surprising there are plenty of ex Astros on rosters around the league. In fact, of the 29 teams other than the Astros, only three teams — Milwaukee, Seattle and Minnesota — don’t have a former Astros player in spring camp (former Astros player is defined as a player who played in a Major League game for Houston).

Here’s the list of former Astros on other teams:

Detroit – Octavio Dotel.

Baltimore – Steve Pearce, Troy Patton.

Boston – Oscar Villarreal, Drew Sutton.

White Sox – Matt Lindstrom, Jeff Keppinger, Angel Sanchez.

Cleveland – Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, Ben Francisco, Fernando Nieve, Matt Albers.

Kansas City – Dan Wheeler, Willy Taveras.

Angels – Bill Hall, J.B. Shuck.

Minnesota – None.

Yankees – Andy Pettitte.

Oakland – Scott Moore, Fernando Rodriguez, Jed Lowrie.

Tampa Bay – Jason Bourgeois, Luke Scott.

Texas  — Lance Berkman.

Toronto  — J.A. Happ.

Seattle  — None.

San Diego – Cody Ransom, Travis Buck.

Arizona – Nelson Figueroa.

Cubs – Edwin Maysonet, Brian Bogusevic.

Cincinnati – Armando Galarraga.

Colorado – Tommy Manzella.

Dodgers – Juan Abreu.

Miami – Chad Qualls, Matt Downs.

Milwaukee –None.

Mets – Brandon Lyon, Tim Byrdak, LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Bixler.

Philadelphia – Humberto Quintero.

Pittsburgh – Mark Melancon, Wandy Rodriguez, Clint Barmes.

San Francisco – Hunter Pence.

St. Louis – Ty Wigginton, Carlos Beltran, J.R. Towles.

Washington – Fernando Abad, Chris Snyder.

Atlanta – David Carpenter, Chris Johnson, Jordan Schafer.

Astros ready for game action

The Astros on Friday finished their final workout before they hit the field for their first Spring Training game of the season. They’ll battle the Philadelphia Phillies at 12:05 p.m. CT Saturday in Clearwater, Fla., where it promises to be a warm and sunny afternoon.

Lucas Harrell is scheduled to start the game for the Astros and will be one of about six or seven pitchers throwing, including Jarred Cosart. Cole Hamels is starting for the Phillies. Harrell was named the Astros Pitcher of the Year last season after going 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts.

“I felt good in my last couple of sides and I felt good throwing in simulated games to the hitters, so hopefully I can take what I’m doing out to the game tomorrow,” Harrell said.

It’s only Spring Training, but getting on the mound to face other hitters is sure to increase the intensity.

“You always have a little bit of nerves,” Harrell said. “It’s always a little bit exciting. The fact is there’s a lot of guys competing for a job, and I’m one of them. Just to know that I need to go out there and pitch well and get one of those spots on the team, it’s one of those things I’ll definitely be really focused.”

Astros manager Bo Porter put the team through a shorter workout Friday after the players had a lengthy meeting with the Players’ Association.

“We worked on a lot of special plays today,” Porter said. “It was more of an explanation of shift defense, where does everybody go when you start to play these special coverages based on a hitter?”

Click here for the Astros notebook, which has information on Jose Veras playing in the World Baseball Classic, what went down at the MLBPA meeting and we catch up with former Astros player, Jose Cruz Jr. And here’s what Jonathan Singleton had to say in his first public comments since his suspension for marijuana, a suspension that will cost him 50 games.

Here is the day in pictures:

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Jose Ciserno.

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J.D. Martinez.

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Justin Maxwell.

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Justin Maxwell poses for a picture.

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Bo Porter talks to the team after the final workout of spring prior to games.

Top prospect Singleton eager to move on

Jonathan Singleton, the top prospect in the Astros system, apologized to the organization, his teammates and his family Friday morning in his first public comments since he was suspended 50 games for a second failed drug test.

Singleton, in an arranged meeting with the media before the start of a Minor League minicamp, took responsibilities for his actions and said he was looking forward to getting back on the field.

“I believe this is an opportunity for me to leave the past behind,” he said.

Singleton will begin the season at extended Spring Training before reporting to Triple-A Oklahoma City when his suspension is up. He won’t be eligible to play for the RedHawks until their May 26 game at Iowa.  He’s eligible to play in Major League Spring Training games.

“I’m going to work harder than ever pretty much to stay in shape and I’ll be ready when the time comes,” he said.

Singleton, a left-handed-hitting first baseman who expected to start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, hit .284 with 21 homers and 79 RBIs in 131 games last year at Double-A Corpus Christi. The club acquired him from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade in 2011.

“He’s got a bright future in this organization and we feel his mindset is exactly where it needs to be given the situation that occurred and he’s ready to move forward,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “He’s got to serve the suspension. That’s part of the rules, he knows that and he’s owning up to it. We feel good about where he is mentally and physically and he is in great shape.”

Singleton said he’s appreciative of the support he’s received from Luhnow and manager Bo Porter.

“It’s time to change,” he said. “A new opportunity is on the horizon. It’s definitely time to move forward.”

When he was suspended on Jan. 9, Singleton issued a statement saying he had tested positive for marijuana. He admitted watching his teammates play while he can’t will be difficult.

“I’ll be a little anxious, you could say,” he said. “Once the suspension is up, I’ll be excited to play again.”

Singleton said the suspension was a wake-up call.

“I guess it was, in a way, but I’m accepting my consequences and moving forward,” he said.

Veras thrilled to represent his country

Astros closer Jose Veras was beaming with pride Friday morning at the thought of being able to represent his native Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic. Veras was on the Dominican roster that was released Thursday.

“You can’t explain the feeling any player can have to represent their flag,” he said. “I think it’s going to be wonderful.”

Veras said he made the decision to play earlier this week after getting approval from general manager Jeff Luhnow. It’s special to Veras, considering he wasn’t allowed to play in the 2009 Classic.

“I was supposed to play in the last one, but the Yankees didn’t let me for a couple of circumstances,” Veras said

Veras, 32, went 5-4 with a 3.63 earned run average last season in 72 games and 67 innings for Milwaukee before signing a one-year deal with Houston. He knows this will be his final opportunity to play in the tournament.

“It’s probably going to be my last chance,” he said. “My next one I’ll be 36, 37 and I don’t know if they’ll give me an opportunity, so this is my chance to do it.”

Astros right-hander Rhiner Cruz (Spain), left-hander Xavier Cedeno (Puerto Rico) and outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin (Chinese Taipei) also appeared on final rosters, as expected. Lin left camp Wednesday to train with his team. Minor League pitcher Murilo Gouvea is on Brazil’s final roster.

To the victors go the spoils…and banana splits

The Astros have spent all spring practicing their post-game handshakes, and on Thursday they got a chance to work on their walk-off win celebration.

Brandon Laird’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning capped a four-run rally to send Team Ensberg to a 5-4 win over Team Everett in an intrasquad game at Osceola County Stadium.

“Never say die with the ‘Stros,” manager Bo Porter said. “That’s outstanding. It was a great comeback with a lot of energy. It served a great purpose. They played the game the way it’s supposed to be played and took advantage of mistakes the other team made.”

Morgan Ensberg said: “Our motto the whole time is ‘That’s what we do, we win.’ I’ll be honest with you. It was the young guys that did it. Delino DeShields had some huge hits. Jake [Goebbert] in the bottom of the seventh hits the triple to tie it up. Chris Carter gets a couple of hits and Brandon Laird gets a couple of hits, and all of a sudden we’re partying on the field.”

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The losing team had to serve banana splits to the winning team.

“You want to turn it into a little bit of fun,” Porter said. “These guys have worked hard this entire camp and now we’re getting ready to play against opponents… We put a small wager on the line, something we all like — ice cream and banana splits.”

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Ensberg called it the biggest win of his managerial career, which isn’t hard to do when it’s your first game.

“The thing that’s impressive about it is my managerial style hurts the players, and the fact they could do something positive with me in the dugout is a testament to their mental fortitude,” he joked.

Here are the pictures from the intrasquad:

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Astros new radio team of Robert Ford and Steve Sparks.

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Coach Morgan Ensberg has already earned a name on his back.

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Players watch from the dugout.

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Carlos Corporan.

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Brandon Barnes connects.

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Jake Elmore.

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Brett Wallace

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Chris Carter.

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Vince Coleman.

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Chris Carter.

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Adam Everett.

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Bo Porter watches intrasquad.

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Veterans Jason Castro, Tyler Greene, Brett Wallace and Wesley Wright.

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To the victors go the spoils.

Players get their first win of spring

The day began with the five members of the media, including MLB.com’s Alyson Footer and myself, battling five Astros players in a friendly game of Family Feud. With the entire roster, field staff and spring staff in the clubhouse, the media and five players — Rick Ankiel, Jason Castro, Justin Maxwell, Carlos Pena and Nate Freiman — sat at tables facing each other.

Astros director of Florida operations Jay Edmiston served as host and manager Bo Porter used an air horn for wrong answers. The media stole the first question from the players, but Maxwell –who I need to point out attended Maryland over Harvard — crushed yours truly — who attended University of Houston over UTEP — in the speed round to give the players the win. Click here for a photo.

There was laughter, booing and cheering, and a good time was had by all.

As far as baseball goes, there will be an intrasquad game at 11 a.m. CT Thursday at Osceola County Stadium, but manager Bo Porter has already unveiled his lineup for Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Phillies in Clearwater.

SS Tyler Greene

2B Marwin Gonzalez

CF Justin Maxwell

1B Chris Carter

LF J.D. Martinez

DH Nate Freiman

3B Matt Dominguez

C Carlos Corporan

RF Trevor Crowe


RHP Lucas Harrell

These players are not making the trip: Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, Max Stassi, Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace, Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez.

Porter said he wants the regular position players to get between 50 and 70 at-bats in games.

“Some guys may need more, some guys may need less,” he said. “A guy like Carlos Pena may feel like he’s locked in with a week to go in camp. Altuve may feel the same way, or he may say, ‘I need to play seven, eight, nine innings because I need extra at-bats.'”

Porter originally had Che-Hsuan Lin in right field against the Phillies, but when he told him Wednesday he was in the lineup, Porter was caught off guard.

“He says, ‘Bo, I’m not going to be here. I leave today,’” Porter said. “I said, ‘Leave? Leave to go where?’ He said, ‘To the World Baseball Classic.’ I knew he was going to the Classic, but I didn’t know he was leaving [Wednesday]. I was under the impression all the guys going to the Classic were going to leave on March 2. That was a little bit of a shock, but we’re glad that he’s going to play for his country, and represent his country and we’re in full support of that.”

Lin is playing for Chinese Taipei in the Classic.

Finally, today was photo day, which meant each player was rotated through several different photography stations. Here’s glimpse:

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Astros lineup for Saturday vs. Phillies

The Astros’ Grapefruit League opener is two days away, but we have a lineup for Saturday’s game against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.:

SS Tyler Greene

2B Marwin Gonzalez

CF Justin Maxwell

1B Chris Carter

LF J.D. Martinez

DH Nate Freiman

3B Matt Dominguez

C Carlos Corporan

RF Trevor Crowe


RHP Lucas Harrell

These players are not making the trip: Jason Castro, Jose Altuve, Max Stassi, Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace, Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez

Astros set for intrasquad

Nothing says Grapefruit League action is around the corner like a good, old-fashioned intrasquad game, which is what the Astros will do at 11 a.m. CT on Thursday at Osceola County Stadium. The teams, which are led by Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett, were drafted Wednesday morning:

Team Everett: Jose Altuve, Tyler Greene, Jason Castro, Fernando Martinez, Rick Ankiel, Brett Wallace, George Springer, Nate Freiman, Marwin Gonzalez.

Team Ensberg: Justin Maxwell, Matt Dominguez, Carlos Pena, Chris Carter, Jonathan Villar, J.D. Martinez, Delino DeShields, Carlos Corporan, Brandon Barnes.

There will be no pitchers throwing because the Astros are going to use a pitching machine that throws curveballs.

Today’s Astros notebook has Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid discussing how pumped up they are to face their former team on Saturday when the Astros play the Phillies, as well as plenty of other information. And don’t forget the story and video of Roger Clemens throwing live BP to hitters on Wednesday. If you think it’s silly, read what the hitters had to say.

Now the photos:

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Astros catcher pause between drills.

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Catcher Jason Castro prepares to throw.

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Nate Freiman holds a runner while Jose Valdez steps off the rubber.

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Group of players listen to instruction.

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Chris Carter gives a high five.

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Philip Humber winds it up.

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Roger Clemens helps Philip Humber with mechanics.

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Dallas Keuchel and Carlos Corporan rest after working.

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Doug Brocail mentors Rhiner Cruz.

Clemens returns to the mound

Seven-time Cy Young award winner Roger Clemens, who’s working as a special instructor at Spring Training this year for the Astros, put on a uniform and got back on the mound Wednesday for the first time in nearly six months, throwing live batting practice to Houston hitters for about 20 minutes in Kissimmee, Fla.

Clemens, wearing his familiar No. 22 in the Astros’ new color scheme, worked from both the windup and the stretch, and even discarded the L-screen in front of the mound for his final few pitches. Carlos Pena, Rick Ankiel, Justin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez and Chris Carter were among the Astros taking their hacks against Clemens.

When he was done, a clearly tired Clemens was asked if he was getting ready to go back into the rotation.

“I’d rather have a glass of red wine than do that,” Clemens said as he wiped sweat from his brow. “That was fun.”

Clemens, 50, threw a mixture of sliders and fastballs, and called out the pitches to the hitters. He even barked a few batting tips as he was pitching.

“I got to face our big boys and that was fun to see those guys and try and throw them some good batting practice,” he said. “Normally, when I do that it’s for the hitters and I want them to get their timing. I don’t think I’ve been on the bump in eight months. That was fun.”

Clemens said he was throwing at about 70 percent of his effort, joking he didn’t want his elbow to come off with one of those pitches. It was the first time he had gotten on the mound in uniform since throwing 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters on Sept. 7, 2012.

“When you’re in that setting there you just want to throw strikes,” he said. “I’m probably a little shorter than most of the guys they’re seeing. They’re taking a lot of pitches for their timing. To see something in between their regular timing and coaches’ BP is always good for them.”

Clemens has been throwing to his sons back home, but he picked up the pace Wednesday to get through the batting practice round.

“You get your mouth open and get winded, and [bullpen coach] Dennis [Martinez] was making me laugh standing behind me,” Clemens said. “It was good for the guys… I’m real thankful I’ve taken great care of my body for the most part, and if my sister didn’t make all those cookies and they didn’t have Starbucks, I’d be really game shape right now.”

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Maxwell first pick for Astros intrasquad

The Astros on Wednesday morning held a draft for Thursday’s intrasquad game with Minor League instructor Morgan Ensberg, who will be coaching against Adam Everett, taking outfielder Justin Maxwell with the No. 1 overall pick. The Astros will split up for an intra-squad game at 12 noon CT Thursday at Osceola County Stadium.

Here’s what else is new Wednesday:

  • Astros outfielder Fernando Martinez issued a no comment through a team spokesman Wednesday morning one day after an ESPN reported linked him to a South Florida clinic that’s been connected to performance-enhancing drugs. Astros manager Bo Porter told reporters Wednesday he spoke to Martinez prior to the team’s morning workout at Osceola County Stadium. Porter said Martinez would continue to be involved in camp activities, and he was on the field Wednesday.
  • Porter said he’s working to get legendary Iowa football coach Hayden Fry to be at his managerial debut March 31 at Minute Maid Park. He said Fry follows everything that goes on with the Astros with “great anticipation.” Porter played football at Iowa under Fry.
  • Porter said he expects Matt Dominguez to get the bulk of the time at third base, which certainly isn’t a surprise. He said Brett Wallace will get a look at third base, but he’ll primarily play first. Brandon Laird and Marwin Gonzalez can also play third base.
  • Today is Roger Clemens‘ final day in camp, and he could throw live batting practice. He showed up to the facility wearing his baseball pants, so stay tuned.